What a week. A new Supreme Court Justice, the first Black woman. And oh, what work she has to do since SCOTUS has overturned Roe vs Wade and has effectively gutted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to fight climate change. Sadly, more absurd decisions are expected in the future.
Then there is the war in Ukraine, and the rumors of more war. And so much more. It does no good to list them. We know.
Like so many others, I wake up every morning questioning what to do, how to respond, how to help, to heal. . . but few answers arrive.
Part of this, I think, is because of my age. Every season of a life has different gifts and different limitations. Part of every day now is spent in trying to determine what they are for me, now. Youth has so much certainty, fire, and spark; middle age such power and ambition; but the late-autumn into winter season? It’s unclear as yet, at least to me.
I would like to say that wisdom and perspective are the gifts of this age, but I don’t feel terribly wise, and as for perspective, there is much that mystifies me about modern life. The shrillness. The self-righteousness. The easy cruelty. The narcissism. The lack of honor among our leaders. The seeming nonchalance about the world of humanity ending if the climate crisis isn’t dealt with.
It’s interesting to find I’m not alone. I am reading, among other books, a slim volume called THE MEASURE OF MY DAYS by Florida Scott-Maxwell. This is what the publisher says about the book:
Playwright and Jungian analyst Florida Scott-Maxwell explores the unique predicament of one’s later years: when one feels both cut off from the past and out of step with the present; when the body rebels at activity but the mind becomes more passionate than ever. Written when Maxwell was in her eighties, The Measure of My Days offers a panoramic vision of the issues that haunt us throughout our lives: the struggle to achieve goodness; how to maintain individuality in a mass society; and how to emerge–out of suffering, loss, and limitation–with something approaching wisdom. Maxwell’s incredible wisdom, humanity, and dignity make The Measure of My Days both timeless and timely–an important contribution to the literature of aging, and of living.
Florida Scott-Maxwell (1883-1979) was a writer, playwright, and suffragist who took up a career in analytical psychology in 1933, studying under Carl Jung in both Scotland and England. Mrs. Scott-Maxwell was 82 when she wrote the Measure of My Days. Her other non-fiction books include Women and Sometimes Men and Towards Relationship.
The Measure of My Days is not a memoir so much as it is a notebook of observances and ponderings from the mind of a clearly brilliant, albeit often puzzled, woman. I think, in some ways, it is the puzzlement I find so reassuring, knowing I am not alone, and that in fact bafflement at the state of the world may be, in part, the natural state of those of us who are no longer young. Maybe bafflement, which surely leads to curiosity, is the gift, since it keeps the mind ticking along, looking for answers.
There are many passages from this book I suspect I’ll be sharing in future blogs, as there is so much to digest. Consider this:
“I often want to say to people, ‘You have neat, tight expectations of what life ought to give you, but you won’t get it. That isn’t what life does. Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you: It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.’ But some wouldn’t hear, and some would shatter themselves on principle.”
There is so much to think about there. The urge to offer advice, and then knowing it is probably useless to do so. The wonderful image of the seed bursting forth with transformative life. The idea that this transformation spans both creation and destruction. The steely-mindedness, a quality I’ve always found admirable. The underlying idea that there is intention behind this process called life, and that it tilts toward fruition. And then this strange… some would shatter themselves on principle. What does that mean? Is it a nod to the Thanatos that lives within all of us, that urge to jump off the cliff as we stand at the edge? Or is she referring to a kind of sheer cussedness she may have found in humanity? As I say, much to ponder, and in such a short passage.
I like a mind such as this, even if I might not agree with all of Ms. Scott-Maxwell’s conclusions about the world. She was, after all, born in the late 1800s, and so her experience of the world, and therefore her conclusions about it, will not be mine, just as my conclusions, while they might be true to me, will not necessarily sound acceptable to someone born in, say, 2000. But Scott-Maxwell lived long into a turbulent time in the world, and through the two World Wars to boot. She knew a great deal.
I wish I’d known her, wish I could have sat over a cup of tea and asked her all sorts of things, including what’s a woman at the young/old age of 66 to think, to do, to be?